Donovan, William Joseph “Wild Bill”, born 01-01-1883 in Buffalo, New York, to Anna Letitia “Tish” Donovan (born Lennon) and Timothy P. Donovan, both American-born children of Irish immigrants. The Lennons were from Ulster, the Donovans from County Cork. Donovan’s grandfather Timothy O’Donovan (Sr.) was from the town of Skibbereen; raised by an uncle who was a parish priest, he married Donovan’s grandmother Mary Mahoney, who belonged to a propertied family of substantial means that disapproved of him. They first moved to Canada and then to Buffalo, New York, where they dropped the “O” from their name. Donovan’s father, born in 1858, worked as the superintendent of a Buffalo railroad yard, then as secretary for Holy Cross Cemetery, and also would attempt to engage in a political career, but with little success.,
Donovan was born on New Year’s Day in 1883. (Named William, he chose his middle name, Joseph, at the time of his confirmation.) He had two younger brothers and two younger sisters who survived into adulthood and several additional younger siblings who died in infancy or childhood. “From Anna’s side of the family came style and etiquette and the dreams of poets,” Donovan attended St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, a Catholic institution at which he played football, acted in plays, and won an award for oratory. He went on to Niagara University, a Catholic university and seminary where he undertook a pre-law major. Considering the priesthood, he ultimately decided “he wasn’t good enough to be a priest,” although he did win another oratorical contest, this time with a speech warning of corrupt, anti-Christian forces that threatened the United States.
With the expectation of studying law, Donovan eventually transferred to Columbia University, where he looked beyond “Catholic dogma” and attended Protestant and Jewish worship services to decide whether he wanted to change religions. He joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, rowed on varsity crew, again won a prize for oratory, was a campus football hero, and was voted the “most modest” and one of the “handsomest” members of the graduating class of 1905.
During World War I, Donovan organized and led a battalion of the United States Army, designated the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division “Rainbow” , the federalized designation of the famed 69th New York Volunteers, the “Fighting 69th
Donovan was a true war hero, awarded the Medal of Honor. Here, as commander of the 1st Battalion, 69th New York Volunteers, in World War I, Major Donovan receives the Legion of Honor from a French General.
During the interwar years, Donovan traveled extensively in Europe and met with foreign leaders including Benito Mussolini of Italy. Donovan openly believed during this time that a second major European war was inevitable. His foreign experience and realism earned him the attention and friendship of Columbia classmate President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Death and burial ground of Donovan, William Joseph “Wild Bill”.